Intimate And Personal Is Not Enough


Intimate” and “personal” is how most Christians would describe their relationship with God. And no doubt it’s true. Jesus died for one as much as for all.

There’s much more to being a Christian than our personal relationship with God.

Did you know there are at least 59 “one another” commands in the New Testament? Each one emphasizes an aspect of how Christians should relate to each other. I called these commands out in my last post because unlike others listed there, I’m afraid we don’t appreciate the weight with which these commands were given.

Take “love one another” for instance. Twenty of those 59 “One Another” commands tell us to love one another. Let’s say that again. TWENTY of the 59 One Another commands—more than a third—tell us to love one another. What’s more, when describing the greatest commands, Jesus placed loving others on equal footing with loving God. Let that sink in.

Over and over we see this command to love each other. And it’s not in the context of being nice or merely as an “ought to do.” It is solidly linked to our salvation. John even asks how the love of God can be in us if we do not love each other.

God is love. And if love is not in us then neither is God.

We know love is not optional. But do we consider a lack of love to be a sin? We expect the hard conversation to be had with someone struggling with alcohol, drugs, infidelity, pornography, or some other hard hitting issue. So why have we never had, or even heard of, a hard discussion with another Christian about their lack of love?

Perhaps it’s because when we describe our relationship with God as personal and intimate, we put a period there. Our culture places a premium on self-sufficiency as a trait to be admired. As a result, we tend to view our relationship with God apart from our relationship with everyone else.

An individual Christian existence stands in rebellion to God’s commands.

But we aren’t meant to go it alone. We’re not made to be individual silos who happen to be in the same place every Sunday morning. And it’s no accident the Church is described as a family over and over again in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t pray for unity among the believers knowing it wouldn’t happen.

What he expected was the world to be blown away by our relationships with one another. He said our love for one another will be proof we are his disciples and through our unity the world will believe in him.

The success of our mission depends solely upon our love for each other.

The proof that will stun the world is not a rock-star pastor. Not a killer worship leader. Not a 100-member choir. Not smoke machines or lighting. Not outstanding children’s programs. Not a beautiful building. Not an online presence. Not hymns. Not contemporary music. Not celebrity speakers. Not special events. Not million dollar budgets. Not miracles, signs, or wonders. Not standing-room-only on Sunday morning.

Only our unity and love for each other as we journey through brokenness together will impact the world for Jesus. The world needs to see love, forgiveness, and compassion in action, not merely preached from the pulpit. Only then will they believe it is possible. A strategy based on anything else will fail.

An intimate and personal relationship with God is the starting point. But it’s our love for each other that invites the world to join with us.

Below are the “59 One Anothers.” Take a moment and read them aloud if possible. And remember there is no way to fulfill any of these commands if there is no “other.” We are the literal family of God.

  1. “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
  2. “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
  3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  4. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  5. “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
  6. “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
  7. “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
  8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
  9. “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
  10. “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
  11. “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
  12. “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
  13. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
  14. “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
  15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
  16. “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
  17. “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
  18. “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
  19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
  20. “…Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13)
  21. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
  22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
  23. “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
  24. “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2)
  25. “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  26. “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  27. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
  28. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21)
  29. “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
  30. “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
  31. “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
  32. “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
  33. “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
  34. “…Admonish one another” Colossians 3:16)
  35. “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
  36. “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
  37. “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
  38. “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
  39. “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
  40. “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
  41. “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
  42. “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
  43. “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
  44. “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
  45. “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
  46. “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
  47. “Love one another deeply, from the heart” (I Peter 3:8)
  48. “Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
  49. “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
  50. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (I Peter 4:9)
  51. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
  52. “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
  53. “Greet one another with a kiss of love” (I Peter 5:14)
  54. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
  55. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
  56. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
  57. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
  58. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
  59. “…Love one another.” (II John 5)

*From Carl F. George, Prepare Your Church for the Future (Tarrytown: Revell, 1991), 129-131.

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Yes, I Went There


In the previous post, we discussed what the Church is—you, me, the bride of Christ.

Now that we know this, what is it we are supposed to do? Well since the Church was established by Jesus, then looking in the New Testament would seem to make sense. It is the guidebook for what the New Testament Church should look like.

Commands given to the Church in the New Testament reflect Jesus’ teaching that he had not come to destroy the law but rather fulfill it. And that is the cue for how his Church should look and behave.

CommandsTake a moment and read this list of commands found in the New Testament. It’s not all-inclusive but does include the big-hitters. I doubt any of these are too controversial.

Note that “One Anothers” is a term I’m using for a group of commands regarding living in community. Also notice the last two are bolded. They’ll be prominent in later posts.

Now let’s make another list. Let’s call these “Tradition.” They’re not wrong or bad, but they’re definitely not commands found in the New Testament. (Again, two are bolded for the same reason above.)Tradition

If I’m right, some of these items being labeled under “Tradition” may rile up a little something inside you. We love to think most things our church does are commands even when we know they aren’t.

But which group is optional and which is not? To which group do we expect our leaders to invest nearly all their time? To which group do we expend most all our efforts? To which group do our money and resources go?

I dare say the Church emphasizes those things listed under “Tradition” way more than those listed under “Commands.” And this approach is not without consequence. Over several generations, we begin to view our traditions as commands even with no New Testament precedent.

The result is a focus away from what makes us the Church and a gradual loss of our true identity:

  • One list relies on our own performance for results. The other list trusts God to keep his promises.
  • One requires a sizeable venue. The other happens wherever a Christian is present.
  • One meets in committee. The other meets in love.
  • One requires state of the art technology, routine rehearsal, skilled performers, and gifted orators to pull off a production. The other produces family.
  • One requires competent staff and degreed professionals to manage operations. The other nurtures disciples and disciple-makers to operate as the body of Christ.
  • One costs hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. The other costs our obedience.

Jesus’ disciples had none of our traditions. Yet in obedience to his commands they shook the world. The truth is none of what is listed as tradition is required for us to be the Church. They’re only necessary if we’re concerned with going to church.

And if that is true, then going to church is optional. Being the Church is not.

 

 

This Is Church


Church is not a building, it’s the people.

We’ve all heard this. Probably even believe it. But this description is lacking. Certainly, the Church is not an address or a location. But it’s also not merely a gathering of Christians for a service or event.

Jesus established more than just a mere meeting of like-minded people who believe in him. Satan and his fallen angels believe in Jesus too, but I shudder to call any gather of theirs “church.”

The Church is so much more. The Church is you. It’s me. It’s the entire body of believers. The Church Jesus established is the literal and physical bride of Christ.

If this is true, then it is impossible for a Christian to “go to church.”

A Christian is the Church. One cannot “go” to what one “is.” If you are Republican, do you wake up early on a given day of the week and go to Republican? No, that’s silly. No one says that because it doesn’t make sense.

If you are a Christian, then when you wake up, you’re the Church. When you eat lunch, you’re the Church. When you go to work, you’re the Church. When you see a movie, you’re the Church.

There is never a moment a Christian is not the Church.

I think on some level we all know this, but few of us live it. Just listen to how we speak:

  • “I’m going to church.”
  • “How was church?”
  • “Where do you go to church?”
  • “’So-and-So’ is trying to get their life back on track—they’re going to church.”

What does any of that mean? It says nothing of our relationship with God. It says nothing of our obedience to his word. It says nothing of our love for anyone. Yet we use those words as a litmus test to judge how “good” of a Christian someone else is and to prove our own legitimacy to others who are judging us. The only thing these words prove is we have an identity crisis.

If we don’t grasp the concept that we ARE the Church, then “going to church” is nearly meaningless.

Let’s be honest. Merely “going to church” is a matter of religious obligation. Yes, we are commanded to gather but that can happen anywhere. Jesus himself said where two or more are gathered he will be there too. Those words don’t apply only to when we gather in a building adorned with a steeple. They were spoken with no qualification and no condition.

Our traditional church mindset isolates our Christianity to Sunday mornings.

I can say with absolute certainty if my wife left our house without the identity of being my wife, I’d have major issues. I can’t imagine her compartmentalizing our relationship to just a couple of hours a week. Hearing her say “I’m going to wife now” and come home to visit me and the kids for a while before heading out again to do more important things is something I just can’t fathom.

Our relationship extends beyond the walls of our home. She doesn’t have to be home to be my wife. She is my wife no matter where she is and she will not hesitate to let that fact be known to anyone and everyone. I love her and trust her for that.

It’s the same with us as the bride of Christ. If we are only his bride in a church building, then we effectively cease being the Church when we leave the parking lot. And that means we aren’t sharing the gospel, loving our enemies, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, or feeding the hungry—all things we are commanded to do.

The difference between going to church and being the Church is the difference between believing in Jesus and obeying him as lord of your entire life. This is a fundamental truth. We can’t afford to not get it.

Instead of going to church to be right, let’s go to the world and be the Church.

That’s Where It Happened


I’ve been restless for a long time.  For several years, what I thought was authentic “church” more often than not left me drained, discouraged, and disillusioned. Yeah, I know the Church isn’t perfect. But I also know what we call “church” is probably not what Jesus had in mind as his bride. This has been the source of my angst.

So after yet another round of crushing church-related heartache earlier this year, my wife and I had had enough. We’d lost faith in the human institution of church but not our faith in the Church Jesus established and never our faith in God. We began meeting with a remnant from the rubble of our last congregation, all of us searching for what it really means to be the Church.

In October, that search took me to San Francisco as I took part in a program called “Church Intensive.” They weren’t kidding with the name—it was crazy intense. For a week, I and a small group of people with similar questions were immersed inFortFunston a first century church paradigm based out of the home. But what we took away was proof the Church is much more than we believe.

The group who operates the program is called “We Are Church.” They’ve been using the first century model for a couple of years now and are sharing what God has taught them. Never did they ask for support and never did they try to recruit new home groups to build their “empire.” They were simply members of the body of Christ living out what it means to actually be the Church instead of merely going to church. This program was their invitation to anyone who wanted to understand their expression of Church.

And it was INCREDIBLE.

Throughout the week we attended home gatherings, wrestled between ourselves and our teachers with what the Church is, ministered to homeless people living under bridges, went door-to-door sharing the gospel in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of San Francisco, and witnessed first-hand just how big of an impact the family of God can have on a region if they simply obey God’s commands.

But the best part for me was that along the way our little group, which included people from Alaska to South Africa, bonded as family and we all finally had a taste of what it was like to be an intregal part of the Church. We were united.

At the end of the week, they took us to a state park at the edge of the Pacific Ocean (see the pic above) so we could be alone and process all we had experienced. And that’s where it happened.

I stopped.

I stopped accepting the man-made definition of Church that has pervaded Christianity for centuries.

I stopped substituting a machine made by human hands for the Church Jesus established.

And I stopped running from the responsibility God gave me long ago as he once again held it to my face.

Like Jonah at the edge of the sea, I finally listened to what was God telling me.

I came home, shared what I had learned with my group, and began a journey with like-minded believers called United As One. We’ve been growing together as a family, learning how to unite in love for one another, and exploring how to impact our community for Jesus. It has been nothing short of wonderful. We are still in the formative stages, but with a presence in three states we can already see God’s work taking shape.

Over the course of the next few posts, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned. If you follow these posts, please be prepared for any range of emotion you may experience as you read. You may feel angered, threatened, convicted, or perhaps even joyful at finally finding someone who gets how you feel. But whether you agree or disagree, if you are a Christian then know that I count you as family and love you no matter what.

And that is why I must write what I will write.

P.S.— This is my Church Intensive family I met in San Francisco. Love these guys.

Church Intensive

The Musty Church


If we were to start a church, what would the “must-haves” be? You know, those things that without them there would be no church? There aren’t a lot of must-haves found in the Church Jesus established, but there are a few.


Love

No-brainer, right? If we don’t love God and we don’t love others we will definitely not be the Church Christ established. And really, probably not even Christian. Love is the Greatest Commandment.

Unity

It is impossible to overstate the importance Jesus places on unity of the believers. He stakes nothing less than missional success of the Church on our unity. Read John 17.

Dependence on the Holy Spirit

When Jesus left Earth, he sent the Holy Spirit in his place. This is the SAME Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. The Spirit empowers the Church to do impossible things. Without him, the Church is dead in the water.

Mission

The Church has a mission—make disciples. This is Jesus’ Great Commission . It defines his Church as an outward-moving force. To not make disciples is to love only ourselves.

Prayer

The Church is so powerful not even the gates of hell can prevail against it—Jesus’ words, not mine. We wield this power through prayer. Without it, the Church will never be a force hell is afraid of.

Without any one of these, there is no Church.

At least not the Church Jesus established.

But when we think of “church” these characteristics don’t normally come to mind. Instead we think of weekly services, pastors, sermons, worship teams, ministry programs, denominations, by-laws, buildings, non-profit status, finances, membership, etc. None of these are bad per se, but scripture doesn’t require them either.

So why can we not imagine a church without them?

Tacking on our own “must-haves” redefines the Church Jesus established—something we have no authority to do.

Scripture refers to the Church as Jesus’ bride. Holding to that analogy, I’ve gotta think Jesus created the perfect bride he wanted to marry. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so ready to walk a different one down the aisle.

Best Church Ever

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Imagine God came to you today and said “I want you to build the best church ever. Whatever you want to make it happen is yours.” What would it look like?

Would it have a rock-star pastor? A rock-solid theologian? Why not both? Would they have an ultra-professional support staff?

Would it have an engaging kids program? A cool youth program? A fresh college program?

What about a kick-butt worship team? Or a 200-person choir? Both?

Would it have the latest tech for stage-time, special effects sermon visuals, social media, and graphics marketing?

Would it have men’s ministries? Women’s ministries? Couples ministries? Outreach ministries? Poor and homeless ministries? Clothing ministries? Food ministries? Bus ministries? Jail ministries? Small group ministries?

Would it have an endless supply of cash?

Would it have a modern venue in the chic part of town? Or a cathedral with towering spires? Maybe a sprawling campus? Extra land in the country for a summer camp or staff retreat?

Would it be overflowing with members of all ages?

Would there be greeters who were best friends with everybody? Or a parking team that could give lessons to aircraft carrier deck crews? Perhaps ushers who once served Britain’s royal family?

What about support from the community and local government? Would it be the toast of the town?

OK–got a mental picture of what your best church ever would look like?

Now imagine if God handed you the Bible and said “Build the Church described in here.”

Would it look the same?

The Burning Church

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I’ve heard that sometimes with serious burns you don’t know how bad it is until much later. Especially 3rd degree burns and worse. Burns like these destroy nerve endings so pain isn’t immediately felt at the time of the burn.

But if the patient wants to heal the pain must come.

Maybe I’m beginning a healing process because lately I’ve really been feeling the pain. Several years of church leadership has inflicted a lot of burn on me and my family. I’m not talking about “Holy Ghost fire” burn. I mean real damage, real harm.

I’ve been betrayed by those I thought had my back. I’ve taken the arrows of those I knew didn’t. I’ve seen gossip cripple ministry. I’ve seen congregations ripped apart by lust for recognition and title. I’ve seen my kids’ heartbreak as they lose friends when families leave. I’ve battled opportunists plotting gain from desperate situations. I’ve been part of a group quite literally abandoned for the sake of numbers, money, and image.

That’s a lot of burn, a lot of harm. The sad thing is almost everyone who has been a Christian for more than a week knows exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve been burned too. I know you have.

With experiences like these it would be easy to play the victim. But the truth is I’m just as guilty as anyone who has ever burned me. I know I’ve burned others. I confess it.

And I hate it.

Why does it have to be this way? Why do we place so much importance on finances, buildings, policies, procedures, and by-laws? Why do we care so much about position and image? Why do we build walls over petty doctrinal beliefs that are probably wrong anyway? Why are we so willing to place anything in front of our brothers and sisters and those we’re commanded to reach?

Are we really that sure of ourselves?

I’m not. At least not anymore. I’ve lost faith in the human institution we call the “church,” but never my faith in God. The Church Jesus established is so different from the organizations we’ve created as a substitute. He must have intended a better way. He must have meant something other than our current condition when he prayed for unity. He must have had something better in mind than what we are doing now to reach the world for him.

Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that way. But my family and I have begun meeting with a small remnant who are just as frustrated as we are and just as willing to explore where that way might take us. Together we desire nothing more than to love God and love others as a family of believers.

Can it really be that simple?

Abortion: Christianity’s White Whale


from-hells-heartForged at sea and quenched in the blood of his crew, Ahab’s harpoon stood ready. Soon it would find the flesh of the white whale. The whale that had taken his leg. The whale that had taken members of his crew. The whale that had ravaged crews from ships gone before.

Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but un-conquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee…

Ahab let loose his spear. True to its purpose the harpoon found both its marks—the barb in the whale and the rope around Ahab’s neck. Heaving in pain, or maybe by plan, Moby Dick hauled Ahab from the boat and drug him to the depths. His entire crew met the same fate save one who lived to tell the tale.

Obsession consumes not only the obsessed but those around them as well. 

It fixates upon one thing, diminishing the value of all else. When obsession sets in, everything and everyone becomes expendable in pursuit of the whale. And the Church is not immune to its siren song.

Take abortion for instance. Abortion has been at the top of the Church’s hit list since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Picketing, marching, protesting, organizing, rallying, strategizing, fundraising, preaching—Christians have spared no resource in forging weapons to kill the decision. But in 44 years not one of them has struck the hated ruling.

After decades of failure, a bitter mindset has infiltrated Church conscience. Abortion is the enemy. Anyone who disagrees is the enemy. Anyone having an abortion is the enemy. Anyone performing an abortion is the enemy. God wills us to fight abortion and  all enemies are to be vanquished in His name.

Enter obsession.

Enter a presidential election.

Enter a candidate promising to seat anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court.

And along with this promise came a trainload of baggage. Bigotry, racism, sexual predation, isolationism, greed, unethical business practices, marital affairs, misogyny, narcissism, blatant false witness, fascist tendencies, and an admission he has no need to ask for God’s forgiveness—all proudly part of the package.

But to the Church, it didn’t matter. One by one, well-known evangelical leaders lined up to endorse the “anti-abortion” candidate. One by one, congregational leaders fell in line. One by one, individual Christians did the same.

Sure they would hold their nose to vote for him, but in true Ahab fashion the Church would sacrifice all other Christian (and American) principles for the sake of its one obsession.

The Church obsessed has forgotten its true enemy. 

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12 (NLT)

It’s easy to do—I’m guilty. Since the election I’ve targeted individuals with my anger forgetting my disagreement with them is not the real battle. So in this post, I publicly repent of this sin. I still struggle with this.

The truth is we do not fight our enemy with a ballot. We fight Satan with a weapon he cannot contend with—love. We’re meant to wield this weapon through God’s greatest commandments to love Him and to love others. But against abortion, the Church has yet to unsheath its greatest weapon.

The Church has placed its faith for change in its vote rather than in God’s love.

Meanwhile Christ appears on our doorstep in the form of women in distress, fear, and need. Instead of coming alongside in support we protest, call them murderers, and vote for the “values candidate.” Our lack of love surrenders these women to Satan’s deceptions. They believe they are given no choice but to end their pregnancy and that the Church, along with Jesus, doesn’t care about them.

If only we loved these mothers-to-be with the same devotion we spend fighting a law!

Had we poured our God-given resources into caring for these mothers instead of lobbying against a law, abortion clinics may well have shuttered their doors long ago for lack of business. Children could have been born and raised in loving homes. And the Church might have been known for its unconditional love.

But it’s easier to vote than to love.

So the Church has bargained to install a leader unfit to lead. “Give us the Court and we’ll give you the Presidency.” As a result, disastrous consequences are already taking shape. We are turning away refugees fleeing bloodshed. We are ripping away healthcare from the sick. We are deepening the divide between the super-rich and the ultra-poor. We are telling the world “We are better than you. We hate you.”

We’ve traded our Christian principles for a chance to spear the white whale. 

And what if we kill it? The refugees are still unwanted. The sick are still dying. The poor are still outcast. And the women are still in desperate need, still contemplating doing the unthinkable. If we did not show Jesus’ love to these people before we killed the whale, why would we ever do so afterward?

We may soon strike the whale.

But the crew is sacrificed.

And the rope is around America’s neck.

Priest of God, we are better than this. I challenge you to shed the obsession and enter thelove-god-love-people fight. Lay down the spear forged in hate. Pick up the cross stained with love. It’s hard following Christ. He said it would be. But this is the fight He wants you in–it’s the one that matters.

(And because I know you are wondering, I am 100% anti-abortion—and more important I’m 100% pro-mom)

The Power of September 12


forgivenessYesterday we commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of a terrible event in our nation’s history. If anything it reminds us no one is immune from the corruption of this world. Yet as the tragedy of September 11 weighs on our conscience, September 12 presents a more powerful opportunity for us. An opportunity that is, if we are courageous enough to take advantage of it. 

In Genesis we find the story of two brothers Jacob and Esau as well as Isaac their father. It was time for Isaac to pass along to Esau the rightful blessing of the first born. A blessing that would travel through successive generations to eventually produce the Messiah, Savior of all mankind.  

By this time Isaac was aged and had grown dim-sighted. And Jacob knowing this disguised himself as his brother, stealing Esau’s blessing from the lips of Isaac. 

 “From the dew of heaven
and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
and bountiful new wine.
May many nations become your servants,
and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
and all who bless you will be blessed.” (Genesis 27:28-29)
 

Even though it wasn’t rightfully Jacob’s, the blessing had been given and could not be taken back. When Esau learned of his brother’s treachery, he begged his father for another blessing. Heartbroken at being tricked, Isaac gave his son the only blessing he could muster:   

“You will live away from the richness of the earth,
and away from the dew of the heaven above.
You will live by your sword,
and you will serve your brother.
But when you decide to break free,
you will shake his yoke from your neck.” (Genesis 39-40) 
 

Though it wasn’t the blessing Esau wanted to hear, it would prove to be the wisest blessing Isaac could have given. 

By now Esau seethed from betrayal. In his hatred he decided to kill Jacob. But catching wind of his plans Jacob fled to another land.  

Many years later Jacob grew tired of hiding from Esau and the consequences of his choices. He sends word to his brother he wants to meet with him. When Jacob’s servants return they tell him Esau is already on his way with over 400 men.  

Jacob fears the worst but goes ahead to meet Esau anyway. When they meet, we witness one of the most powerful scenes in the Bible:  

“Then Jacob went on ahead. As he approached his brother, he bowed to the ground seven times before him. Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept.” (Genesis 33:3-4, NLT) 

And here we see the miracle of Isaac’s blessing. When Esau decided to break free from his brother’s servitude of deceit, it wasn’t through his original plans of revenge. Vengeance would have only deepened his pain and spread it to those around him.  

Instead, Esau shook off his brother’s yoke through different means–forgiveness. Unknown to Esau at the time, Isaac had blessed him with the grace to forgive his brother, which turned out to be the greatest blessing of all.  

Yesterday we remembered a heinous act committed upon America. 

Perhaps every day you remember a heinous act committed upon you. 

So whether figurative or literal, here we are at September 12—the day after. There is no question what has been done. The only question is “What will you do now?” 

You can take the path of retribution. But the consequences of this path will be revisited upon you, those closest to you, even upon those you have never met. Just like the wars of the past fifteen years, many people and many families will be affected in irrevocable ways. The path of retribution can never lead to healing. Only more pain. 

Revenge, hatred, and anger are the straps that tighten the yoke of offense. Eventually it chokes the neck from which it hangs. It is the path born from the fallen state of our human nature.

But God created another path. It moves us beyond the offense of yesterday toward the hope of tomorrow. It’s the path Isaac set Esau upon and it’s the direction Christ’s example directs us toward as well. 

The path is forgiveness. And it is the only road that leads from offense to freedom. It’s not an easy road to take. But when we choose to walk it the offense of yesterday no longer has influence over any of our tomorrows. We are free to once again live in the richness of the earth and under the dew of heaven. 

After his emotional reunion with Esau, Jacob had this to say to his brother: 

 “…And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God!” (Genesis 33:10, NLT)  

Of all the descriptions of God in the Bible, this is by far my favorite. Forgiveness is the face of God.  

Imagine if on September 12, 2001, the world had seen the face of God.  

While that date and all that has transpired since may be in the past, there will be many more September 12s to come. When they do, be courageous enough to show the face of God and walking the only path to true freedom.

The Gift Awakens


Being this far into this series, I assume you’d like to continue the discussion about discovering and using your gifts. First, let’s lay a foundation.

It’s no secret God has always meant for His Church to engage the world around it. But sometimes we get the “engagement” part backwards. For instance, when we pray for a lost friend or loved one it may sound something like this:

God, convict their hearts.”

“Bring them to their knees.”

“Reveal yourself to them in a mighty way.”

“Draw them to you.

There’s nothing wrong with those prayers. I’ve prayed them. I’m sure you have too. But they shed light on our mindset regarding how we “engage” the world. It seems we often see our role as asking God to use His power to make something happen.

But this was never the plan. God doesn’t need us to point out where He needs to engage. He wants US to engage so we can be a connection to Him.

God wants His love to flow through us and into the lives of others.

The plan has always been for us to engage the world at its point of need. To do this, God baked into each of us certain giftings intended to be used as a tool of connection. Each gift was designed to match certain needs of the broken and corrupt world in which we live. 

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  Ephesians 2:10, NLT 

Paul tells us in I Corinthians 12 we all have gifts. God decides who gets what gift and when. The variety of gifts are limited only by His infinite imagination.

But as discussed in previous posts (i.e., The Reason You Aren’t Being Fed), today’s church model only utilizes a small percentage of the total gifts available in the body. Certainly pastors, musicians, and teachers were meant to use their gifts every Sunday morning, but what about everyone else? When and where do we use our gifts?

You’ve heard the cliché “The Church is not the building, it’s the people.” That’s true, but not the whole truth.

The Church is not the building, it’s the people…who are called to engage the world so others can become part of the Church.

Outside the building is where God expects the entire body to use its full giftedness to engage the world. This is where the world indeed is. This is where the need exists.

Very few people will walk into the big event to witness the few gifts on display. So if we do not use our gifts to engage the world on its terms then the vast majority of the world will never be introduced to Christ. The Great Commission simply does not work any other way.

It’s time to end the ineffective engagement strategy of “Come-and-See” and embrace the “Go-and-Tell” strategy Jesus commissioned us to.

The only way this happens is by intentionally discovering and developing the wide variety of gifts available in the body. As gift development rises, engagement opportunity follows.

How does the Church do this?

  • Provide a safe place free of judgment and fear of failure where believers are allowed to develop their gifts. The more comfortable people become using their gifts inside the church the easier it will be for them to operate in their gifting outside the church. (Refer to my post “Common Ground”)
  • Help people understand their element. When does time loose meaning? When does an hour seem like 5 minutes? Chances are there’s a gift in there somewhere.
  • Foster honesty with how God has made us and an appreciation for our uniqueness. God intends to use that which makes us different.
  • Encourage asking those who know us best what they believe our gifts are. Others often see things in us we do not.
  • Use aptitude/personality tests.
  • Establish mentorship. Nothing gives us focus like having a teacher and a student. Everyone needs a Paul and everyone needs a Timothy.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Ask God to reveal our gifts and give us opportunities to use them.

Challenge #1 to the Priesthood:

Find your gift. Develop your gift. Operate in your gift. The world needs you to engage.

Challenge #2 to the Priesthood:

Ask your leaders to implement a “Common Ground” gathering and devise ways to develop the giftings in your church.

 

There are consequences for not operating in the giftings God has given us. In the next post we’ll explore the urgency for discovering and using our gifts.